Showing posts with label Port Adventures. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Port Adventures. Show all posts

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Tips on Thursday - First Time Cruiser Tips


First Time Cruiser Tips

More often than not, first time cruisers question whether they will actually enjoy cruising or not, and so those guests tend to want to “sample the waters” as inexpensively as possible and do everything they can to “trim the fat” so to speak.  The temptation to try and do everything as cheaply as possible often leads to headaches or system shocks that can be avoided with a little extra planning and preparation.  Your travel consultant can certainly help with that part of your vacation.

If you aren’t sure you’ll enjoy a cruise and don’t want to break the bank on your accommodations, you can always book a lower category stateroom, such as an inside cabin (no windows or verandah). Depending on the itinerary, these staterooms usually sell for as little as $45/day per person and include food, entertainment and stops in the various ports of call. If you don't like the cruise you haven't lost much; if you do like it, then next time you might upgrade to a more expensive balcony stateroom.

You’ve arranged for the cruise, now you have to figure out how you’re going to get to the port.  If you don’t live within reasonable driving distance, chances are you’re going to be flying to the port city.  Be very careful about flight times.  Do not book a flight that has you arriving in Miami at 3:00 pm the day the ship sails.  Passengers must be onboard ship at least an hour before sailing time, and you have to account for everything in your timing calculations – luggage retrieval, walking between sections of the airport, transfers from the airport to the port terminal, check-in at the port, etc, etc.  Everything adds up, and you cannot control how quickly something that is outside of your control moves, such as baggage handlers, lines, traffic between airport and port terminal and so on.   If you miss the ship it's your fault, even if the airline had a delay, and even if you purchased travel insurance, you will not get your money back simply for missing the ship’s departure due to poor planning.   Many people who live on the West Coast fly into Miami a day early and stay at a hotel - remember that the East Coast is three hours later than the West Coast - so if you have a five hour flight leaving California at 7:00 a.m. you still won't hit Miami until 3:00 p.m.  Consider a "redeye" flight departing California at midnight instead.  Even if the flight has a two-hour layover somewhere in the middle, that flight will put you in to Miami at just about the right time to go to the port and board the ship.  The main difference between getting to an airport really early and getting to a cruise ship really early is that you’re just going to sit around and wait to board your plane typically 20-30 minutes prior to departure;  with a cruise, you can start boarding 3, sometimes 4 hours prior to departure and start enjoying the fun!  Throw on your swimsuit and enjoy the pool or other amenities onboard.   Remember this adage when it comes to planning for your cruise – if you’re on time you’re late, if you’re late you’re out of luck, get there early! 

Ports of Call and the shore excursions into those parts are all part of the cruise experience.  No one has to disembark the ship while in port, and many first time cruisers don’t because shore excursions cost extra.  Not everyone utilizes actual excursions offered by the ship or other excursion providers opting instead to “do it themselves.”  But if you do, consider the options carefully and pay attention to the details – most especially the time!  Whatever the stated return time to the ship is, again, make sure you are back early, with time to spare.  Naturally, it makes sense that if you paid to cruise in Europe you should see the Leaning Tower of Pisa. You paid to get to Italy, after all. But if you have to walk to a train that makes local stops it could take all day.  Instead, you can get a tour from the ship that visits Pisa and Florence with a tour guide.  Make the most of your limited time in port by planning your time carefully and keeping value and margins of error in mind.  You don’t want to get left behind in that beautiful port only to have to figure out how you’ll catch up to the ship at the next port so you can ultimately find your way home again.

Another quick tip regarding shore excursions, especially when you are paying for tours and the like – if you imbibe, don’t drink too much.  Yes, it might be fun and enjoyable dancing the night away, but you don't want to miss the next port of call due to a wicked hangover.  Of course how much you drink is up to you, but keep in mind that on most ships alcohol is an added cost, and it can really add to your cruise costs.  If you plan to drink a lot you can do that at home.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Another Magical Port Adventure - Cozumel




Like so many other 7-night cruises out there, our sailing on the Disney Magic through the Western Caribbean included stops in ports of call.  Our itinerary included stops in Grand Cayman, Costa Maya and Cozumel.   This entry will share some information about our stop in Cozumel. 

Cozumel, also known as the island of the swallows, is an island in the Caribbean Sea off the eastern coast of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.  It is close to the Yucatan Channel, opposite Playa del Carmen, and is one of the ten municipalities of the state of Quintana Roo.  The main town on the island is San Miguel de Cozumel, and it is a major tourist destination for its balnearios, scuba diving, and snorkeling.   The island is Mexico’s largest Caribbean island, and is formed on a flat  bed of limestone, covered with jungles, and is about 30 miles long by about 10 miles wide. 

Like the previous day in Costa Maya, we docked in Cozumel in the morning hours, around 7:30am.  Once again we would be leaving the ship, headed to our adventure at 9:00am.  This adventure would take us out to explore some Mayan ruins, as well as the Discover Mexico Cultural Museum, where we would also enjoy lunch.  Unlike the previous day, the skies were clear, and blue, with hardly a trace of clouds. 

We met our guide, and the driver of the van, and were quickly on our way with about a dozen dozen other guests to the site of the Mayan ruins – San Gervasio Archaeological Site – Mayan Sanctuary of the Goddess Ixchel. 

Everyone was strongly encouraged to cover themselves with bug spray as soon as we got out of the van, and it was a good thing we did.  The site was deep in jungle, and very populated with mosquitos.  We got to see some fascinating ruins of structures that the guide described to us as temples, houses, steam rooms and other structures.  We saw the well where they would have drawn their water, and an ancient road coming in to the site through the jungle.  According to the story shared by the guide, this particular site was the primary worship location where all Mayans were encouraged to go to at least once their life – similar to Mecca is in the Islamic religion. 

Following our tour around the site, we were invited to spend a few moments in the on-site shops, and then we were escorted back into the van.  We got a nice tour of San Miguel de Cozumel on our way to the Discover Mexico Cultural Museum. 

Discover Mexico was an interesting museum, filled with a vast array of artifacts and pieces created by local artisans in the indoor galleries.  We enjoyed a nice 10 minute film on the history and culture of Mexico, and then got a nice tour of the grounds.  Scattered throughout the grounds were large, miniature re-creations of famous Mayan temples, Aztec temples & pyramids, and modern Mexican landmarks.  It kind of felt at times like a Mexican version of a “Legoland” type display, but it was neat to be able to see various structures and things that I’ve read about but never personally visited. 

Following our miniatures tour, we were treated to a fantastic lunch.  Delicious tacos, chips, guacamole and a wonderful mango punch were served.  I enjoyed seconds, and contemplated thirds, but decided in the end that two helpings was plenty.  I have always enjoyed Mexican fare – having grown up in Southern California, my family frequented a number of restaurants serving “real” Mexican food (unlike so many others throughout the country that are a sad imitation), but this lunch was absolutely fantastic.  It was wonderful to enjoy truly authentic Mexican food.

At the conclusion of lunch, our time there was basically done, with the exception of watching the few children on the tour get to enjoy a piñata.  It was fun to watch them try to break it open.  It was all part of the experience, included in the tour, and kind of sad to watch the parents of said children then limit their kids to just 2 or 3 pieces of candy each.  Even the hosts of the museum thought it strange as they were encouraging the children to take more.  But the parents didn’t want their kids to seem greedy, I guess, or were concerned for their teeth, or something… I’m not sure what.  So those kids each only got a few small lollipops and other treats.  But it was still fun to watch, and listen as the hosts all sung a traditional Mexican song as the piñata was raised and lowered during the hitting process until it broke open.

We then were returned to the port, where Julie and I walked around for a short while, taking various photos, until we returned to the ship to enjoy the rest of the afternoon onboard.  I truly enjoyed Cozumel, and cannot wait to return.  It was a beautiful island, and one that I would like to be able to explore further in the future. 

Next time we’ll take a look once more at dining opportunities onboard.  Before that though, for my U.S. readers, whatever you do, enjoy your Thanksgiving!   Thanks once again for reading and following along.  I always welcome comments, and would love to hear from you.  Thanks also for sharing this page with friends and family. 

Until next time,





















Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Not-So-Magical Port Adventures


Like so many other 7-night cruises out there, our sailing on the Disney Magic through the Western Caribbean included stops in ports of call.  Our itinerary included stops in Grand Cayman, Costa Maya and Cozumel.   This entry will share some information about our stop in Grand Cayman. 

Costa Maya is a small tourist region in Mexico, in the state of Quintana Roo in the Yucatan Peninsula.  It is close to the state capital of Chetumal, not that far north from the border of Belize. It is a mostly undeveloped area, but growth has been coming quickly and rapidly after the construction of a large cruise ship pier.  It includes two small villages − Mahahual and Xcalak – both with a population of less than one thousand.  The port includes a modern shopping mall filled with jewelry stores and souvenir shops galore, and is generally only open to cruise ship passengers.  It also includes a central plaza with saltwater pools and 'swim-up' style bars.  It is the closest port of access to many of the lesser known Mayan ruins in the Yucatan including Chacchoben and Kohunlich, which are substantially less excavated than the more popular pyramids of Tulum and Coba.

Our ship docked in Costa Maya in the morning hours, around 7:30am.  We were ready to go to leave the ship, having to meet inside Studio Sea for our particular tour at 8:30am so that we would be off the ship and headed to our adventure at 9:00am.  We were heading out to enjoy a Dune Buggy Adventure, which would include a private beach experience for a couple of hours.  Upon arrival in Costa Maya, however, the skies were not as clear and blue as they had been throughout our cruise thus far, but rather to they west they were a bit grey and a bit windy.  It looked like rain was on the horizon. 

As we made our way through the port’s shopping mall over to the dune buggies that were lined up and ready to, our fellow passengers on the excursion were separated into groups.  Each vehicle accommodated 4 guests, so we were paired up with another pair – a father and daughter, who apparently didn’t want to go on the same excursion with wife and other daughter.  They were looking forward to a fun-filled afternoon in the dune buggy as we were! 

After a quick safety lesson, and a brief talk about the ins and outs of driving a stick-shift dune buggy, we were off, headed down the road to our first stop – the “pee pee stop” as our guide called it.  That would be about 10 minutes down the road, prior to our 45 minute to hour-long ride out to the private beach area.  We stopped in the town of Mahahual, and got to walk out onto the beach.  We were given an introduction to the little town , including history, culture and the like, and saw remnants of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Dean back in 2007.  

The wind was definitely picking up, and the clouds were definitely moving in.  We snapped a few quick pictures, and then the skies just opened up and it started to pour!  Everyone quickly made their way to the couple of few shops for refuge until the storm could die down.  After a few minutes of waiting, with no real decrease in sight, our tour guides made the announcement that our adventure was being cancelled.  We would have to drive back to the port and we could enjoy the port there or return to the ship.  The private beach was currently getting much more rain than Mahahual was receiving – and with a 45-60 minute ride in open-topped dune buggies, each way, they decided it would be best not to subject 30+ people to the elements.  So we all got back in to our very wet buggies and started the short drive back to the port.

We lingered in the shopping mall area for a while, looking in various shops – seeing the same basic merchandise over and over again (I felt like I was in a Disney theme park, where you see the same basic stuff regardless of which land you’re in) and weren’t overly impressed with any of it.  I thought about getting a t-shirt or other memento, but since my tour was cancelled and I really hadn’t done anything all that exciting there in Costa Maya, I decided against it. 

By itself Costa Maya has a pretty landscape, but isn’t much as a cruise stop when compared to other more popular, better known destinations.  It is in a more rural part of Mexico, and simply “came to be” with the addition of a cruise ship pier.  Of the three stops we made on this cruise, Costa Maya was the longest by far, in terms of hours spent docked in port (we were there from 7:30am until 11:00pm), and the least desirable of them all.  Personally I would have rather spent a longer day in Cozumel or even Grand Cayman, but alas, we didn’t.  While I might give it another try on a future cruise, I certainly won’t be specifically seeking out an itinerary that includes Costa Maya as a “must-do” stop.  Thanks to the long stop though, I was able to get some nice pictures of the ship at night, not something you can typically do!

Next time when we look at our port adventures – Cozumel, Mexico.

Until next time,


















Monday, November 5, 2012

Magical Port Adventures - part 1


Like so many other 7-night cruises out there, our sailing on the Disney Magic through the Western Caribbean included stops in ports of call.  Our itinerary included stops in Grand Cayman, Costa Maya and Cozumel.   This entry will share some information about our stop in Grand Cayman



Grand Cayman is the largest of the three islands that make up the Cayman Islands, which is still a British territory.  

Geographically, it is south of the western end of Cuba, approximately 1,092 miles southeast of Galveston, TX.  The island itself is about 22 miles long, and about 8 miles wide at its’ widest point.  It goes no higher than 60 feet above sea level. 


Yet, Grand Cayman, is home to hell on earth… literally – there is a place called Hell, on the island.  It is a place about the size of half of a soccer field, filled with black limestone formations.  It is ugly, yes, but nothing too exciting, though it certainly is a highlight of many tours, with a post office right onsite where guests can send cards or letters home “from hell.” 
Our tour took us to the Cayman Islands Turtle Farm, which raises turtles for meat, as well as introduction into the wild.  We were able to each hold a turtle, and touch several others.  It was a fun, yet sad place too.  We did get to see a hatchling working its’ way up out of the dirt in the glassed-enclosure hatchery.  That was pretty neat by itself. 

The island is surrounded by some beautifully pristine waters, with such incredibly beautiful hues.  Surrounding the island are many wonderful places for scuba diving and snorkeling.  We took a tour on a boat out to “Stingray City”, which was about a 15-20 minute boat ride out to the area, made up of 3-5 foot sandbars where there is an abundance of southern stingrays that guests can interact with.  


We had a very nice time playing with the stingrays, and getting some cool underwater photos of each other.  The waters were so beautiful, and so very comfortable.  The temperatures were fabulous – my lovely bride was initially afraid that they might be too cold to swim in at that time of year. 

Overall, neither of us were terribly impressed by Grand Cayman.  It has some lovely areas, and to be sure, some gorgeous beaches and ocean panoramas, but the port was dirty and ugly, and left a bad impression from beginning to end.  The people there were very friendly, but the overall experience just wasn’t what we had hoped it might be.  Perhaps if we go to Grand Cayman again on a future cruise, we will simply enjoy the beach instead of attempting a “port adventure” tour. 


Next time when we look at our port adventures – Costa Maya, Mexico.

Until next time,